This Great Evil

Month: May, 2012

Trailers wreck me

I’m not someone who cries during movies.

This isn’t macho bullshit posturing; I’ve just never been moved to tears by a movie. Some films have come close (the most recent ones being Never Let Me Go, the montage sequence in Up and the climax to Children of Men), but none have ever pushed me pass the boundaries of manhood and into the putrid waters of getting stuffed into lockers.

The same, however, could not be said of trailers – I am a massive pussy when it comes to trailers. I think, maybe, a successful and rapid flurry of images and music overwhelms my ability to cynically takedown a film and, instead, triggers the waterworks. In celebration of my unbecoming a man, here are some trailers which have helped. I don’t expect most people to have quite the same reaction, but, hey, who knows? If you’re a guy, maybe we can commiserate on our shared emasculation. If you’re a lady, here’s a tissue…can I get your number?

The cynical part of my brain kept jabbing on about how I didn’t like the musical and how Tom Hooper was a bit of a hack, but that hateful little portion got overwhelmed by the song and the assault of images. No, this trailer doesn’t raise my expectations of the film (I don’t like the musical’s bastardization of the novel to begin with and there’s very little indication of how Hooper’s decision to record the singing live works elsewhere), but it did make me cry. Just a little bit. On the inside. Not even really tears, really. Probably acid.

Also, I know it’s too soon to start talking about this, but I think we can all agree that Anne Hathaway’s getting an Oscar nod out of this. Her performance, from the tiny fragments in the teaser, looks suitably moving, and Fantine is pretty much the most tragic (and therefore memorable) character in the musical, aside (maybe) from Jean Valjean. The cinematography also looks top notch, from the opening magic hour vista to that sublime shot of Hugh Jackman receding into the shadows. Hooper still has this odd inclination to shoot with really wide lenses at weird angles, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to hurt the film’s aesthetic.

This is one of the few times title cards actually added something to a trailer. The fonts used, timed perfectly with the preceding/proceeding images and the music, add a lot to the overall tone of the piece. I’m a bit of a sucker for dialog-free, music driven trailers (as evidenced by this and Les Miserables’ teasers wrecking my shit up), and few trailers have as perfect a backing song as this one. Wake Up encapsulates so much of the movie’s themes and emotions that it’s a bit of a disappointment we didn’t get this as credit music or something in the actual movie. In many ways, Where the Wild Things Are didn’t live up to this trailer, but I’m thankful, nonetheless, that we got this astonishing work of marketing art.

War Horse’s second trailer is a prime example of the evil king Steven Spielberg using the dark mage powers of John Williams to repeatedly punch you in the gut until you cry, god damn it! The score layered on thick in this otherwise mostly silent trailer. Williams’ score is a little bit heavy at times, but it does a surprisingly adept job at powering through the trailer’s tonal shifts and mix of different settings.

The kicker is Benedict Cumberbatch’s closing lines: “Be brave, be brave, be brave.” That shit just gets to me. Every god damn time.

Honorable mentions:

Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Tree of Life both have magnificent, moving trailers. They just didn’t move me enough.

Blue Valentine got retroactively disbarred from this list after I watched the movie.

Children of Men chose a fitting and stirring enough song given the subject matter, but the editing of the trailer was too clumsy and awful for it to be seriously considered.

My Week with Hulu Plus

Very recently, I finally took the plunge and buried myself head deep into the zany world of Community. The show was and is superlative. Pursuing ways of watching the show is not. Ethically, I can’t really justify watching it for free on illicit streaming sites (though I, of course, wound up watching a fair number of episodes that way). Yet, at the same time, I really don’t want to shell out 2 bucks an episode.

Part of the reason I hadn’t gone into Community earlier was because it wasn’t offered on Netflix Instant. I’d much rather watch the show on a legal streaming service without having to deal with poor streaming speeds, bad quality, copious and possibly virus laden advertisements, and deleted video files. After three years, I think it’s safe to say that Netflix won’t be getting Community any time soon.

So, that left me with two viable options: purchase DVD box sets of the show or subscribe to Hulu Plus. The latter won because a) Hulu offers a week-long trial of Hulu Plus and b) I didn’t want to buy a DVD box set of a show I didn’t know if I would enjoy.

Signing up for Hulu and setting up the service on my iPad and PS3 was straightforward. Both apps are intuitively designed, for the most part, and fairly lightweight. But, after going on a massive week-long Community jag, there are a lot of flaws with Hulu still present. The first and most glaring of which are the ads. I don’t like advertisements, especially in services I pay for, but I wouldn’t mind the omnipresent commercials if Hulu Plus for iPad had better commercial distribution algorithms.

In other words, that stupid fucking AT&T road trip ad has been permanently etched into a dark recess of my mind. All my exs do live in Texas. Hulu’s ads are incredibly repetitive – you’re liable to see the same ad across multiple commercial breaks in one episode, sometimes even in the same commercial break. I don’t believe this is an issue at all with the number of advertisers buying space on Hulu as their website doesn’t have the same problem. I think, instead, it’s an issue with the iPad app, an issue that really should get addressed soon. Please. For the sake of my mental well being.

The second issue is with poor page organization and retention. There seems to be two classes of pages for TV shows: an overlay on top of the main menu, and a fullscreen separate page for each show. The former remembers which season and which type of sorting you used when you exit out of the video player. The latter does not. It’s a small oversight that only adds up to a couple of additional taps, sure. But it’s still annoying as hell, and something that I would hope gets fixed.

The last big annoying gripe I have with Hulu is in its inconsistent show offerings. I know this is more the fault of the television networks, but I really want to watch The Simpsons on my iPad.

All things considered, Hulu Plus is overall a good service. It handily replaces normal cable subscriptions while providing new paradigms for viewing TV content. At the end of the week, I cancelled my Netflix subscription and went over to Hulu to get my Community fix. Cool? Cool. Cool, cool, cool.

 

What it means to be a hipster

We all want to be a connoisseur or specialist in something, for reasons that are equal parts ego and insecurity. It just feels good to be a gangster the expert in your social circle, to know more than your best buds about, say, wine or prehensile toys. Having your friends come to you for advice and being able to out-articulate your pals is just a massive, massive ego boost.

At the same time, being your group’s resident French expert alleviates intrinsic insecurities and concerns about whether or not your friends need you, while also focusing more attention on yourself. Of course every group worth its weight in snot needs a singularity expert! Who else is going to lead all those Pabst Blue-fueled discussions about black holes?

In the end, these kind of passions and urges become a part of who you are. Deciding what you want to sink your time into is an incredibly revealing enterprise. Partially because these interests are usually antithetical or unrelated to your own career – friends generally tend to have at least somewhat similar career focuses – and partially because they speak to your failed and/or dismissed aspirations (the kind of shit your inner child would pursue without the pressures of bills, mortgages and social relationships to maintain).

It’s an understanding, if not entirely healthy, urge, like a desire to occasionally indulge in some candy.

Hipsterism, then, is taking this urge to extreme and extremely unhealthy places, like eating a god damned warehouse full of candy in one sitting. It’s mistaking and simplifying the reason why being a connoisseur feels good, i.e. the positive social feedback, to just taking pleasure in showing off. The definition of quality changes from how much pleasure you extract from something to how obscure something is, and you, instead, take pleasure from how much you think your friends are impressed.

This cultural tendency or, more accurately, affliction isn’t necessarily caused by a conscious choice. There’s an upper bound to the amount of mainstream goods/knowledge someone consumes before they get curious about the more obscure.

To be fair, the hipster movement isn’t just about showing off. True believers are motivated by a desire to be an individual and master of human expression. It’s about being disgusted by groupthink and striving to experience and define excellence on its own merits, outside of what the increasingly overbearing influence of pop culture tells people to like. True believers, I guess, are understandable. Maybe even respectable. It’s just that most hipsters get into this line of business for more shallow reasons.

It’s readily possible to navigate this jump without becoming a hipster. Two things to remember: Don’t delude yourself into thinking that you like something not well known simply because of its obscurity. Don’t forget that your friends aren’t impressed by your esoteric tastes.

Always remember that the usefulness of a connoisseur in social settings lies in his/her ability to dish out good recommendations and good advice, not in his/her capacity to show off.

A smile to my face and a spring to my step

Spurred by a conversation I had following The Avengers, I thought about my favorite bits of escapism in film. These aren’t movies that are great because of their thematic depth or artistic significance, but, rather, because they give viewers a great time. It’s artistic merit of a different kind yet valid and vital all the same. The resulting list wound up skewing towards the modern (mostly because, hey, I was raised now, not in the 70s), so I probably missed several classics along the way. Disclaimer: I’m not including any John Carpenter films because I’ve, shamefully, not viewed any.

(arbitrarily ordered)

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is the only film on this list that also cracks my top 10 favorite films of all time. Hot Fuzz is a film whose labyrinth construction not only successfully emulates but improves upon the standard cop film conventions. The first time I watched Hot Fuzz, I honestly had no idea where the plot was going to take us. A wonderfully absurd thrill ride from start to explosive finish, Hot Fuzz handily carves out a slot among the classics.

Die Hard

Another cop movie, although marginally more serious this time. While Hot Fuzz wasn’t without an emotional core, Die Hard has a more powerful one – I find the plot about McClane’s wife to be a bit more compelling than the bromance in Hot Fuzz – with great characters, hardcore action and many quotable one-liners (a must in this genre).

Star Trek (2009)

Here is a movie whose flawless editing elevates the more mediocre aspects of the production. So, the script and the story aren’t the greatest things in the world. And Eric Bana as the villain didn’t really have a lot to do. Yet, Star Trek moves at such an assured clip that you hardly notice these little to big flaws. J.J. Abrams expertly zips from comic relief to epic vistas to actiony set pieces without missing a beat. Star Trek is the kind of movie after which you want to high five the people next to you.

Aliens

Aliens is a vastly different beast than Alien, trading atmosphere and dread for camaraderie and an immense will to survive. I’m not saying that Aliens is superior to the original, but that Aliens provides the kind of thrills I’m looking for in this post. Infinitely quotable and with fantastic action direction, Aliens is an action movie for the ages, even if the special effects have not aged gracefully.

Spiderman 2

Spiderman has never been more epic and more relatable than in Spiderman 2. The movie’s an expert mix of comedy, action and pathos, delivering both visceral and emotional thrills in spades. Out of all the superhero movies since then, Spiderman 2 is still the only one in which I felt genuine emotional investment, making the ending all the more satisfying and conclusive.

Ocean’s 11 and Inside Man

Two vastly different heist movies yet they trade in, pretty much, the same level of engagement from the audience. Ocean’s 11 is a throwback to a more glamorous era of cinema, while Inside Man is a bit of a homage to the grittier films of the 70s and 80s. Soderbergh’s masterpiece trades in a steady stream of laughs culminating in a ridiculously convoluted and ridiculously smart caper. Inside Man is more about the build up of tension, as the audience gets more and more intrigued by the premise under which the robbers operate and their actual plan to get out of the bank alive. I felt a little bit conflicted about including Inside Man on this list, but I wound up doing so because the movie’s still a pretty light-hearted affair (spoiler: no one dies) and because Denzel Washington and Clive Owen exchange some pretty funny quips (that’s not a pina colada…).

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Really, all the Indiana Jones movies (yes, even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) belong here. I think that I marginally prefer the first one to the others, if only for the bringing a gun to a sword-fight gag.

Catch Me If You Can

Spielberg is pretty good at making these diverting bits of popcorn fun. William Abagnale Jr.’s story is slightly tragic, but Spielberg never lets his film wallow in self pity. He uses Abagnale’s crooked yet lovable father as a springboard, the inciting event for the movie instead of the ever present force guiding Abagnale’s escapades (like in W.). It’s fun, breezy and slick, an almost guaranteed two hours of fun.

The Social Network

This one’s probably a little bit more controversial pick, but I don’t feel too bad about including it on this list. Because, really, even with all the drama, this is still a story about how some dudes wound up with a slightly smaller fraction of a lot of money. And, David Fincher has come out and said that his movie is pretty much a modern take on John Hughes. Still, Sorkin’s spectacular script and the cast’s fantastic performances keep viewers constantly entertained, and left just a little bit sad at the end.

Mean Girls

I have a problem with portentous high school movies that claim to capture what it’s really like in secondary education (12, Prom, Havoc I’m looking at you) because I don’t remember doing that slamming that many drugs, getting that beaten up or wreaking that much havoc during my four years. On the other hand, I don’t have any problem with a high school movie that drops that pretense in favor of surrealism or unabashed theatricality. I like Mean Girls a little bit more than Fast Times at Ridgemont High and its ilk because I cannot conceive of a world in which Sean Penn is considered sexy. I like Mean Girls a little bit more than Rushmore, because I think it’s funnier.  The movie’s got a lot of great gags and a genuine core to it. Tina Fey doesn’t bother getting the details right, opting, instead, to try and nail the emotions of adolescence. It works, to spectacular dividends, even if I was never fully convinced that Rachel McAdams was a junior.

Honorable Mentions:

Airplane! – One too many pop culture references that flew over my head, not enough jive talk.

Caddyshack – Not enough dick jokes.

Mission Impossible 3 – A great movie that could have been more effectively trimmed. Also, the fourth one spoiled me in terms of IMAX-aided vertigo-inducing set pieces.

Dr. Strangelove and In the Loop – Great comedies that I couldn’t include because they’re too pitch black to belong on the same list as fucking Mean Girls.

The Big Lebowski – Would include, but there’s only so many times you can hear, “Shut the fuck up, Donny” before it gets old.

True Lies – Not enough dick jokes.

The Incredibles – Fantastic opening and ending, boring and largely forgettable middle.

The Avengers – Amazing finale let down by the 90 minutes and 6 films it took to get there.

If you don’t like this, you are dead to me